Megan’s Offbeat Home cooking challenge

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THIS is currently my idea of the perfect meal: a ginormous pizza and beer.

I always say, the biggest mistake that Aaron and I made in our marriage was NOT marrying someone who cooks. We both have TERRIBLE eating habits and no skills when it comes to cooking. I happen to love eating food, I just don’t happen to love creating food. Aaron is one of those people who, if he could, he’d just take a pill in order to get all his nutrition — he has no love of food and hardly any time to eat anyway. If either one of us married someone who knew how/loved to make meals, we’d be so happy. So folks, if you’ve got a partner who loves to cook, CHERISH THEM.

I just came back from an Offbeat Empire work retreat at Ariel’s mom’s property on Bainbridge Island. Part of the deal with the trip was that we would all team up and take turns making each of the meals. As I know there’s no Trader Joe’s on the island, my go-to meal of frozen pizza and pre-packaged salad was NOT going to be a possibility. Barring that, I got NOTHING when it comes to feeding the masses. So I offered this up:

Also, reminder to anyone who is partnered with me — I’m more of a hinderance then a help in the kitchen. So, if you don’t want to have to instruct me like you would a toddler when it comes to making food, I’m MORE than happy to pay for everything we (you) need if you’re more than happy to turn it all into food.

Which then got turned into “useless Megan does all the dishes, while the other, competent, Empire workers created the edibles.”

I was more than happy with that arrangement. I washed and cleaned and, in turn, ate wonderful things like grilled cheese-and-pear finger sandwiches, black beens and homemade tzatziki, and pancakes and dutch babies for breakfast. My stomach gurgles just thinking of it all.

Once home from the trip, Ariel contacted me with an idea for an Offbeat Home post…

Ariel: Basically, CAN THIS PACKAGED FOOD NON-COOKING PERSON SURVIVE WITHOUT PACKAGED FOOD FOR ONE WEEK?
Cat provides meal plans/recipes for you.
Megan: HA!
Ariel: You document your experience.
Megan: that would be hilarious.
i would totally try that

And so it’s looking like, starting next week, I will be totally trying that! I’m going from eating like this (and, yes, this is seriously my meal plan EVERY DAY unless I go out to eat)…

  • Breakfast: toast
  • Lunch: pre-packaged salad or turkey sandwich
  • Dinner: frozen pizza or frozen beef and broccoli

…to something like this:

  • Breakfast: Spicy scrambled eggs for two!
  • Lunch: Cheesy crunchy sandwich and a sweet potato!
  • Snack: Cookie break!
  • Dinner: Spinach and parm risotto with an apple nut salad and for dessert ICE CREAM!

Cat’s rules are:

  • Three meals + 1 snack + 1 sweet/dessert each day
  • Prep time must be less than 30min
  • Work within the five-or-fewer ingredient rule for packaged foods

I’m thinking that if Aaron or Coco (or anyone else that knows how to run a camera and possibly edit!?) are around while I’m attempting this experiment, I’ll have them capture video. Because that way, even if I fail at my meal attempts, at least will get some HILARIOUS footage. Possibly including panicked shopping trips? Me no likey shopping.

So stay tuned to see if this will be the best or WORST idea in Offbeat Home history!

Comments on Megan’s Offbeat Home cooking challenge

  1. You can do this Megan! I swear to you, cooking is NOT rocket science. It can be very simple and very gratifying to feed yourself and those you love. Maybe you’ll get “hooked on cooking” heee hee…”hooked on cooking worked for ME” lolol

  2. I pitched this idea to Megan for two reasons:

    1. It’ll make for funny & relevant posts
    2. At the retreat, when talking about her food intake she said (AND I QUOTE) “I’m basically dying slowly via frozen pizza.” Every time she ate real, whole food that someone had prepared she was like, “I think this is the most amazing food I have ever eaten.” (We’re talking beans & rice, people. Not fancy stuff.) This was genuinely sad.

    SAVE MEGAN FROM THE FROZEN PIZZA THAT IS KILLING HER!

    • Entertaining and doing a public service? What more could you ask for? I’m looking forward to watching the whole thing unfold

      • Is it bad that I think it’s going to be absolutely SO entertaining that I’m looking at it like a freaking comedy act? πŸ˜‰

          • Jamie Oliver’s meals in minutes book is AMAZING. It basically teaches you what your Italian grandmother never did– how to balance all the various prep stages of a meal so all the dishes get ready at the same time! Definitely good for the kitchen illiterate (or hey, for the kitchen literate– there are loads of good tips and recipes)

          • Ooooh whilst i found that Jamies 30 minute meals are yummy, I thought it was a push to do them in that time, and that quite a lot of them rely on you having already chopped the ingredients – in fact one of his took me over an hour without dessert, and I’m a good cook (if i do say so myself!)
            It was delicious though. πŸ™‚

    • It’s reading articles and comments like these that make me wish I could hang out with the entire Offbeat Empire at once.

  3. Just say NO to delivery AND DiGiorno! You can do it, Megan! I wish the best for you, and can’t wait for the resulting posts πŸ™‚ Also, if you lived around me, I’d totally cook for you and your husband. I’d love to have someone tell me my food is the most amazing food ever πŸ™‚

  4. This is a fantastic challenge! I am also a poor cook (I can cook a few things, but mostly prefer mac and cheese, pasta, etc) but luckily the boyfriend loves to cook and is good at it. I clean up – that’s our arrangement.

    I’ll be checking back in on occasion to see how this goes – good luck Megan! πŸ™‚

  5. Girl, I hope you find your love (or tolerance, at least) of cooking. Giving up all that packaged food will change your life– or your taste buds, at the very least.

    Good luck!!

  6. I’m so excited about this! I’m in pretty much the same boat as Megan. Love to eat, can’t really cook worth a darn. I can follow directions, but actually getting a legitimate meal together with a protein, a starch AND a vegetable? Rough stuff. Help!

  7. Can’t wait to see how this turns out! Megan, I was like you… could NOT cook to save my life and was skeptical about learning until my then-beau, now-husband moved in with me. He doesn’t cook. I realized, I WILL KILL US WITH THIS PREPACKAGED INSANITY. I got a few basic cookbooks (ie, here is how to cook an egg and not die/burn yourself and/or the egg) and now I LOVE to cook! It’s become fun! Sometimes my husband helps with the food prep, which is even more fun because I get to let my inner bossypants out and tell him what to do. πŸ™‚ He’s not a huge fan of cooking himself (I think he worries too much that something will go wrong) but when we do it together he enjoys it.

    I still think it is a miracle every time I whip up something yummy all on my own, which is fun because it’s like you get to have a small personal victory every single day. I still have some non-successes, but overall I’ve come to realize that it can be easy and fun to make your own meals. The more recipes you read, the more you will learn about techniques and flavor combinations and soon you will start putting things together on your own and experimenting. Good luck and have fun!

  8. I strongly recommend Real Simple — the magazine and/or website (http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/index.html). I am totally of the “how can I make this quickly and simply” school of cooking, and get completely frustrated when recipes call for things I have to go to specialty stores to find. Real Simple does whole sections on simple, delicious foods that real people can make without having to be as clever as Martha Stewart (or have her pantry, or staff to run to the store).

    I’m eager to see how it turns out, and am hoping to gain some inspiration. I used to cook for my family but have gotten terribly lazy about it! We eat FAR too many bowls of cereal for dinner around here. But I’m getting remarried soon, and I don’t think that’s going to cut it for my FH and his kids. Sigh. I hate dishes as much as I hate cooking, so I think I’ll start cooking if only to get out of dish-duty.

    Good luck! Know that there are lots of us out here pulling for you!!

  9. Can you post recipes!?!?! My partner is away and now my meals have turned into a crappier version of Megan’s. For dinner last night I had a handful of chips and a block of cheese!

    • I think it may be a bad sign that I see nothing wrong with your last night’s dinner…

    • Handful of chips and a block of cheese=deconstructed nachos! If anything, it’s gourmet πŸ™‚ Sincerely, someone who’s had popcorn for dinner.

      • My roommate said it’s not dinner if I wasn’t sitting….but if I had sat then it would be gourmet!

      • oh my goodness….the boyfriend calls them “cold nachos” and wishes restaurants would give you the option of having them as well….le sigh.

    • I can top that! Not personally though. A fellow teacher at my school once ate a packet of grated cheese with tomato sauce (ketchup) squeezed on top. From the packet.

      It makes me gag!

  10. I am so excited about the idea of both recipes AND video. I’m trying to train my sister how to cook, but I never really went through a “I don’t know how to cook” phase as I would make up recipes as a little kid. So I really don’t know how to properly approach the situation for her level of panic.

  11. This is so me…I mean WAS so me!
    After I married my husband last September (my husband sounds exactly like your husband), we had my parents over for Christmas and I was cooking Christmas dinner. Ashamed of being the apple that fell far from the foodie tree, I had never told them I didn’t cook. I begged my sister who just opened her own restaurant for advice and asked my Dad for help on the roast and amazingly pulled it off.
    After that, I thought “well maybe it won’t be so bad to cook, and maybe if I do we won’t be eating frozen pizza and lean cuisine for the rest of our lives.” (I also want to note that I don’t think it should naturally fall to the woman to cook, but with the husby not really liking food in general it didn’t make sense for us to have him cook or even help all that much. I plan the meals, shop and cook, and he cleans up and it works great for us.)
    So I signed up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box from a local farm and we get fresh veggies and fruits every week. That way, I’m forced to work with what the farm gives me (and try all kinds of things I’d never pick up in the store, like chard and black-eyed peas), everything is seasonal, and we eat our veggies.
    I also buy magazines with recipes (like the Real Simple seasonal recipe magazines, which are great) and have basic-level cookbooks, and look at allrecipes.com a lot.
    It was daunting, but I now cook at least 4 days a week, and it’s fresh and healthy and balanced. For me, the hardest part was figuring out what to cook, so doing a bit of planning each week and getting the CSA really helped. Following recipes keeps me from messing up too bad.
    Megan I totally think you can do it, and you’ll find cooking can be a lot of fun and very rewarding!

  12. I hate cooking. I don’t food. I didn’t understand the point of eating, except for that whole you’ll die if you don’t thing. I can cook, I’m actually a pretty good cook. I just HATE it.

    And then I started dating Viking. Viking is a foodie. Viking loves to cook. Now I like food, but I still hate cooking, and I moved away for school. So I daydream about cheesey fish biscuits and homemade turkey pot pies and eat box brownies and plain lettuce.

  13. Omg, this is *so* me & my husband! Well, mostly. He can’t cook unless forced & following a recipe ever-so preciously (then he does pretty good but does manage to dirty every single thing in the kitchen). I can cook, even make recipes up on a whim, but I hate it with the fire of 1,000 suns. Seriously, I’d rather clean the catbox.

    So we eat a lot of Lean Cuisine & takeout, whilst I dream of multi-course organic meals. *sigh*

    Every so often, I get up the gumption to make lists & meal plans & dammit, I’m gonna cook! But then I get busy or lazy or simply realize how much I despise cooking.

    Please please, show me the way to do it fast, tasty, & relatively pain-free!

  14. Now I feel selfish for hogging all the foodie goodnessβ€”both I and my future husband love to cook (and are good at it), and right now I’m working on my brother’s organic vegetable farm, where we basically won’t eat veggies from the grocery store, since they aren’t high enough quality… Oh, and we have a recipes section on the farm website, and all of those recipes are ones we developed or significantly modified… Good luck, Megan, and have fun!

    • Yeah, there are definitely couples out there that hogging all the goodie goodness — my neighbors both professional chefs at Michelin Star restaurants and they’re married… to each other. So not fair. Selfish bastards. πŸ˜‰

  15. I might cook along.

    Breakfast is especially challenging for me. I REFUUUUUSE to cook for breakfast. If it’s not something I can pick up and carry out the door with me, it’s too much work. Pre-prepared fresh fruit? Mebbeh…

    Since my boyfriend moved in, I’ve begun to realize just how lame my cooking is. He uses things like. Sauces. And salsas. And spices.

    • Unless the sauce comes in a frozen cube along with my 5 minute frozen meal, I ain’t making no “sauces.”

      • Here’s the thing about sauces: sometimes, you make them, AND YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU’RE MAKING THEM. They just happen in the skillet. It’s amazing!

    • Sandwich for breakfast? Or cereal? That doesn’t involve cooking, just picking up a bowl and pouring milk or yoghurt.
      (I eat the same thing for breakfast every single day – a sandwich with nutella ;)).

      • I have this weird mental THING where something cold ISN’T breakfast. I can coax myself to eat fruit because I know I’ll snack on it all morning. Unless it’s a hot sandwich, I just feel grumpy all day about it. My brain. I don’t even.
        Also, I really just don’t like cereal (except Cinnamon Toast Cruch, which probably shouldn’t even count.) Am I a freak?

      • “Sandwich for breakfast?”

        My mom doesn’t cook, so for YEARS she made us PB&J sandwiches for breakfast. Protein? Grains? Fruit? Easy to eat in the car? Check, check, check, check.

        The only fallout is that I can no longer eat grape jelly without gagging.

    • The first time my now husband saw me eating “dinner” I had prepared, he was horrified. It was a cooked chicken breast with some hot sauce on it.

      • my husband (then boyfriend) used to occasionally “cook”. the fanciest thing he made was chicken, baked in the over until cooked, then topped with salsa and some cheese and baked again until the cheese was melted.
        It was actually not bad (though for the love of Cheezus, salt and pepper on the chicken first!)
        He also only owned salt, pepper, and garlic salt. now we have EVERY SPICE.

        • You can premake muffins (I quite like pumpkin apple muffins as they are high in all kinds of nutritious goodies) or even freeze batter in muffin cups, then RIGHT AFTER you get up, pop in in the oven to bake as you are getting ready for your day, easy peasy and a “hot” breakfast that’s sweet and wholesome and hearty πŸ™‚

  16. I can cook, and enjoy it, but it still surprises me every time I take a bite and think, I would pay good money to eat something like this in a restaurant! When I was living on my own, I would get hungry at 8pm, realize I had nothing in the apartment, and trudge down to the grocery store around the corner to buy whatever. When my now-husband and I moved in together, we started planning meals and cooking together. Four years later, it still feels novel. (And I get an ego-boost when he tells me – usually on a daily basis – how lucky he is to have married a good cook.)

    Good luck, Megan! Wishing you a week of wonderful meals!

  17. Good luck! My husband is recently unemployed and has taken over the household cooking. I used to cook ALL our meals, and so he has found this change really daunting. He says mastering a couple small meals/techniques have really helped him feel more confident. Our meals this week have usually involved a grain of some kind (rice, polenta, quinoa) and some roasted veggies. Delicious and cheap!

  18. Best of luck, Megan!
    When I first moved away from home I was exactly like Aaron, I would seriously fantasise about the day when I could just take a pill and that would be IT. Eating was so boring!
    But then I met my boyfriend and he had taught himself how to cook when he first moved away from home, and his food was delicious and cheap and healthy and AMAZING!
    Of course, I saw that as a challenge, and now I’m pretty much as good as he is in the kitchen. He makes the best bread, but I make the best pasta sauce ^^
    Anyways! I hope you guys learn to enjoy cooking, because I want you to have long and healthy lives!

  19. Don’t worry… I only learned to cook because I love to eat (even as a kid, that’s why I picked up cooking before I was ten), and it has become something I really enjoy – because I love the outcome. We still have the occasional pizza night. With homemade pizza half of the time. ^^

  20. I’d like to see how cooking for breakfast works.

    That’s something I’ve never really got. I grew up in a family that always had cereal or very rarely a fried breakfast on the weekend. I’ve experimented with a few different things like Pop Tarts (bad!), cereal bars (good?) and toast but every so often I have this weird feeling that theres a whole world of cooked breakfasts that I’m missing out on.

  21. My hubby and I are another one of those couples that hogged the foodie goodness. He owns and runs an organic cafe, which means that I do the majority of the cooking at home. Unfortunately it also means that neither of us can be stuffed washing the dishes once its all said and done (I am 30 weeks preg, cut me some slack!). I’m also coeliac, which means that I have about a 1000 different flours in the cupboard and baking is like a science experiment, literally! I also quite enjoy making things like pasta and custard from scratch – one day you might too Megan! In the mean time feel free to fly to Australia and do our dishes. We’ll feed you!

  22. Spinach and parm risotto?! MUST HAVE recipe! I’ve ALWAYS wanted to learn how to do a risotto, but I’m kind of afraid of them. And souffles. Those terrify me! I absolutely LOVE to cook! HATE doing dishes. My man doesn’t mind the dishes and doesn’t cook. Works for us. I’d suggest Rachel Ray’s cookbooks. Her recipes are usually pretty simple and don’t use those weird ingredients that can only be found in one specialty store in the entire state you live in and cost the equivilant (equivilent?) of a small countrie’s GNP (GDP?) (obviously economics was NOT my favorite class!)

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